Friday, February 4, 2011

Banish winter blues with flowers, friends and fun projects

When I pad down the stairs in the early morning light, l instinctively head to the thermostat. On this morning, it reads 11 below zero. I shiver and let the familiar sense of dread settle in, wondering how we’ll spend another day together indoors.

Faced with perpetual gray skies and freezing temperatures, I battle the impulse to hunker down and wait for winter to pass. It’s almost as if I am holding my breath, waiting for spring’s return. Despite these feelings, however, I know I don’t want to let one day blur into the next. I want to do my best to celebrate what I have right now.

In Calvin Coolidge’s words, “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.” So even if I can’t eradicate all my winter angst in a single swoop, I can make small, deliberate choices to find joy. It’s even possible to do so without breaking my budget.

One budget-friendly way to lift your spirits, according to research from Rutgers University, is with a bouquet of fresh flowers. According to a series of published reports from Professor Jeanette Haviland-Jones and her colleagues, flowers have an “immediate and long-term effect on emotional reactions and social behavior,” for both men and women. In other words, flowers are clinically proven to reduce stress and make people happier. Investing in a small supermarket bouquet can cost as little as $5, but it’s a simple and cost-effective way to improve your mood.

Similarly, making an effort to cultivate relationships is a low-cost way to beat the winter doldrums. Try gathering friends to share a meal or enjoy a game night together. You don’t have to put on a full spread for everyone; you can make a big pot of soup and ask guests to bring bread and dessert to share. Or you can gather after meal time and serve a light snack.

You can easily elevate simple, inexpensive fare to impressive party food. For example, a bowl of popcorn topped with crumbled bacon (and some of the pan drippings) makes a crowd-pleasing snack. Pair this with rich candy bar hot chocolate and gather around the fireplace or the coffee table for a game or good conversation.

Getting outside is another easy, inexpensive way to squeeze some joy out of winter – even if it’s difficult to find the motivation to do so. Take a brisk walk, go sledding, or build a snowman. When you’re engaged in physical activity, your brain is releasing endorphins. These chemical messengers reduce your perception of pain, boost your immune system, and generally promote physical and emotional well being.

Learning a new skill or reviving an old interest can have a similar positive effect on your mood, as I found out when I recently pulled out the pasta maker I inherited from my grandmother. The process of rolling out pasta dough, and then slowly turning the crank on the machine, was almost meditative. I stood in the kitchen and surveyed the long strands of pasta with great satisfaction.

If you’re looking for ways to banish winter doldrums, make a list of three things you’ve always wanted to do or that you haven’t been able to finish. Perhaps you have a craft or cleaning project that has gone undone; now may be the perfect time to finish that novel or reorganize your closet.

When you make it a point to enjoy what you have right now, you might find that, instead of the winter blues, you have a warm sense of satisfaction—and that’s something worth celebrating.

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